Attitude Adjustment: Is It Really Possible?

Attitude is the precursor of behavior, which is the forerunner of performance. That is, a negative attitude engenders mirror actions, which often lead to poor performance. There is an important distinction between attitude and behavior. Attitude embodies an individual's overall thought process — how he or she relates to things. Behavior, on the other hand, is attitude in action.

Attitude Is Viewpoints

Attitude covers a person's viewpoints and outlook on the world at large. You've no doubt heard the expression that some people see the glass as “half full” and others as “half empty.” Well, you've got to insist, as a prerequisite for working for you, that your employees see things as half full, or you'll drown in a sea of discontent for sure. Ignoring completely or giving short shrift to employees' negative attitudes, in many instances, amounts to preordaining unacceptably low performance levels.

You can easily discriminate between negative attitudes and positive ones. Sometimes just a sigh or two emanating from an employee while you are talking to your team clues you in on who is not with you and what you want to accomplish as a coach. Sometimes it's an aside uttered in response to your ideas. Even a snidely delivered remark that's trivial in nature — even unrelated to the job — is not something to overlook.

Attitude comfortably resides in the mind and manifests itself in body language and the flapping tongue. Behavior, in the confines of the workplace, defines specific actions — both visible and assessable — that go far beyond the wagging tongue. And this is, ultimately, what counts regarding your employees. However, you can never isolate attitude from behavior.

Attitude may in fact call home the cozy confines of the beautiful mind. But the mind is one powerful instrument. And while you can't be 100 percent certain that a bad attitude will translate into a bad performance, you can be sure that it's an unhealthy thing. You can take to the bank the fact that negativity is the Bubonic Plague of the office world — contagious and ugly.

The Bad Attitude Spectrum

Is trying to overhaul an employee's attitude from bad to good in your powers as a coach? Is it in your bag of tricks? Of course it is.

If it's job-related, it's certainly within your power to turn chicken feathers into chicken soup. After all, sitting down with employees and talking with them is a coach's modus operandi. Employees with attitudes that negatively impact either their own job performances or others' job performances have to be called into your office for candid, no-holds-barred discussions. This much is a given.

Be it an attitude adjustment or reshaping an on-the-job relationship, opportunities abound to better employees as both valued human resources and human beings. A coach is a catalyst who aims to convert all manifestations of discord into positive outcomes.

Naturally, the first item on your agenda is to locate the source of the bad attitude. Let's say, for example, that your employee Paul, who is highly competent in his job, gets passed over for a promotion that he thought he richly deserved based on the merits. This perception (and maybe even a reality) is enough to turn a formerly positive attitude into a negative one.

Now, allowing Paul to roam around the office in a bitter, angry frame of mind is an open invitation to increased restlessness in your ranks. If Paul is permitted to convince others that the meritocracy, which ideally should be at the center of all coaching promotions, is not in fact practiced, you've got a major credibility problem on your hands. And credibility is a coach's underpinning. Thus, you've got to make the case to Paul that he was bypassed for reasons that were fair and sound, and based solely on qualifications. You've got to convince him with whatever evidence you have at your disposal. You've also got to recharge Paul's batteries by giving him positive feedback on his overall job performance and offering words of encouragement about his future.

By the same token, you must also rebuke him in no uncertain terms for going negative and for not coming to you first to discuss his perceptions and feelings. If you are in reality on solid ground, Paul will have no choice but to accept the fact that he was not the most qualified person for the promotion, or he will have to look elsewhere for a job. A stark but absolutely necessary choice in a positive work environment.

Straightforward Communication

Here's another employee bad-attitude conundrum to consider. Let's say that Meg from Company A comes to work for you in Company B, and immediately starts grumbling about how much better it was working at A than it is working in B. This kind of griping is not unusual but is totally unacceptable in any work setting.

What do you do? That's easy. You call motor mouth Meg into your office and immediately lay it on the line. “Look, Meg, you applied for this job; we were impressed with your credentials and your interview; we offered you the job; and you accepted the terms of employment. So, can you explain what your problem is with us?”

Straightforward communication here often turns a problem attitude like this on its head, because many of these purveyors of negativism, like Meg, are unaccustomed to open and frank dialogues with their bosses. And when confronted as such, they're often impressed and regret what they've done in spreading bad cheer. Sometimes they're chagrined and even intimidated by the fact that their unprofessionalism has been called out into the open.

The most intractable of employee attitude problems often revolve around an individual's attitude toward life in general and not to the job per se. People who are attitudinally disabled, as it were, carry bad attitudes with them from sunrise to sunset, anywhere and everywhere. Nevertheless, you've got to insist that any bad attitudes remain outside the confines of the workplace.

Curbing Terminally Bad Attitudes

Let's face it: There are people who wake up and don't smell the coffee. And if by some chance they do, it's burning. Of course, in a business utopia, you would prefer to have weeded out these negative employees — the attitudinally disabled — before hiring them in the first place. But, as we've said before, this isn't always the way things turn out. Cleverly concealed negative attitudes are a dime a dozen. However, when they finally do rear their ugly heads — and they do — watch out, coaches!

Again, a frank sit-down with any and all violators of your positive attitude edict is in order. Permit the trespassers of your ethical boundaries to explain themselves. All employees get to speak their pieces under a coach's leadership, regardless of the circumstances. Perhaps, through your coaching efforts, you can assist in planting the seeds of a more positive outlook — even in an utterly negative person. Nobody (well, almost nobody) is unredeemable. If it's personal problems and an altogether tumultuous life that are the cause of an employee's incessant negativity, a little succor and understanding on your part can sometimes go a very long way.

If you don't feel that a core change of attitude is humanly possible, you've got no choice but to demand that your negative employees keep their unsettling attitudes at bay. That is, ask them to compartmentalize the problems that are being reflected in their poor attitudes. Some individuals have a remarkable knack for doing this kind of thing, and they don't let their mind-sets — their worldviews — impact at all their behaviors on the job.

You should be assertive in all your approaches to managing, but particularly in addressing conflict situations that arise. Assertive communication applied with alacrity is what is required in dealing with the problems of employee discord and bad attitude.

Bad attitudes festering in the workplace shouldn't be tolerated at any time and for any reason. Utilizing all the communication skills at your disposal, you've got to insist on either a bad-attitude makeover or the aforementioned compartmentalization. If neither of these two choices is acceptable to the guilty parties, there's always a third choice.

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